Not Married to the Ministry
What if my spouse doesn’t want to be a youth ministry volunteer?
“So will your wife be helping in the youth ministry as well?”
In any job there are presumably going to be unwritten and unspoken expectations. For many years one of those expectations in youth ministry was the “two for one” hire, where the spouse of the youth pastor would volunteer in the ministry alongside their husband or wife. This is Biblical, right? Proverbs 32, maybe?
For the first eight years of my youth ministry career, my wife served alongside me as a youth ministry leader. She led small groups, came on retreats, and worked behind the scenes to make the ministry a success. This wasn’t only helpful—it was fun. We got all kinds of bonus time together, even if it was sleeping 50-feet apart on a gym floor, eating room temperature pizza, and cleaning spilled nachos out of the backseat of the church van.
When our second daughter was born, my wife decided it was time for her to step back from youth ministry for a season. It was during this period she learned that she was done with tepid pizza and splattered nachos, and instead used her gifts to serve in other areas of the church… which was still kind of a “two for one”, right?
Didn’t really feel that way.
I learned scores of lessons about marriage in the years that followed. Marriage is challenging in any period, but when my wife’s role changed, there was a seismic shift from doing everything together as a couple to her seeing me leave home to spend time with students, being out late for youth group, and heading out of town on retreats and mission trips.
This wasn’t bad… just different.
So how did we survive?
Here are three tips I’ve learned when marriage and ministry take you in different directions.
1. Don’t just talk about boundaries
Talking about boundaries is super trendy in the church world. If I had a dollar for every time someone in ministry talked about boundaries or balance, I’d be richer than a mega-church pastor. It’s easy to talk about, but much more difficult to live.
I endured a season where I often found myself out five nights a week “doing ministry.” I’ve heard people try to spiritualize this and justify it, but that’s just shortsighted. When I refused to say no to others I was just saying no to my family. And they suffered.
I tried to compensate by inviting students over to our house rationalizing that it would count as a night at home. The reality is these nights often saw me in the basement with others while my wife tended to our kids upstairs. When I truly was at home, I was frequently chatting with students online (throwback to AOL Instant Messenger) and as technology changed I would continually be texting.
It is crucial to set boundaries together.
Its okay to just say no.
Decide jointly how many nights out a week you will allow. Commit to withhold saying yes to certain things without first talking with your spouse.
Take time to unplug before you get home and stay unplugged when you get home. I started using an app called Abide and praying a prayer of examen prior to coming home. This helps me process some of my workday and keeps me from dumping on my family when I come home.
Don’t be afraid to disappoint those in your ministry. I learned the hard truth that I’m not that important in this world, but I am the only husband my wife has and the only father my girls have. Prioritize those roles, and set boundaries.
2. Regulate your rants
When you spend a significant portion of your day with the same people, you are bound to come home talking (sometimes ranting) about those people. I did my best to guard my wife from everything that was happening in the youth ministry, assuming she would rather stay separate from everything.
I assumed wrong.
Eventually she felt shut out of my world. She didn’t know the people I was around and was unable to know what I was planning, dreaming about or praying for. She wanted in. It turns out, and this is true to this day, she likes when I share things about the ministry I lead.
Communication is a two way street. Some of us struggle listening, and some of us struggle talking. Take time to discover what your spouse needs. My wife doesn’t want to only talk about ministry. She likes knowing what’s happening, but wants to also talk about our lives, our children, our dreams, and our plans.
Talk to your spouse about ministry; just don’t only talk about ministry.
3. Invest in your marriage more than your ministry
It took me waaaaaaaaay too long to figure this out. I had equated loving and obeying Jesus to serving Him in ministry, which justified putting my marriage in a secondary position. I focused on the discipleship of people who are no longer in my life while failing to help those in my own home know Jesus more.
I urge you to never make that mistake.
The most important change my wife and I made was making it a point to connect every day. We started this when we lived in Florida, so it was easy to go for a walk literally every day. But when we moved to the Midwest, we had to discover new ways to connect (or buy some snow shoes!)
Every Sunday night we have date night. It’s more than a Christian cliché; it’s a must in our marriage. Some nights we kick the kids out and watch a movie together, other times we go out and do something fun. We have gone for bike rides, seen a musical, gone exploring and more. Find what works for you and stick to it.
We also have worked hard to get away together. There will always be reasons not to go, but we have never regretted when we take these times. Sometimes it might be going an hour away, and others times it might be something more elaborate. A couple of times in our marriage we have benefited from FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember. We are in ministry and we have teenage daughters, so we don’t have loads of disposable income – but we make it work because it’s important.
Whatever path God has you on, remember that your marriage will likely outlast your ministry.
I have left every ministry I have worked at, but I still have the same wife. Your ministry may take you to places that your spouse doesn’t go, so be intentional to make sure you aren’t leaving him or her behind in the pretense of doing Kingdom work. As we grow in our marriage and our ministry, may God give us the grace to trust Him to do great things both inside and outside of our homes.
Rob Chagdes is one of the pastors at Prairie Lakes Church in northern Iowa. In the years since he met Jesus as a sixteen year old, Rob has spent his life working to raise up the next generation to love God and invite others into His unending story. He spends most of his free time with his wife Leslie, their three amazing daughters, and their energetic dog Jedi. You can reach Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org .